The end of M


The arrival of the new 4 Series and the implied threat it represents to the continuation of the M3 lineage says a lot about the way BMW bosses view the M brand.

M for marketing, reckons Robertson
M for marketing, reckons Robertson
Would they really kill off the M3 though? In a flash, given how much emotion BMW sales and marketing boss Ian Robertson attaches to M. Which is to say none.

Don't misunderstand. Robertson understands precisely how important M is to BMW's bottom line in terms of prestige, halo models, brand bragging rights, showcasing technological know-how and the rest. Does he give a flying one through a rolling donut that the latest crop relegate the driver to the least important component in a vastly complex machine? In a word, no. When we asked him last week how BMW intends to keep the M3 alive in the post 4 Series world he simply batted the conundrum aside with a disinterested "we've thought about this."

And what of the complaints from the likes of us that the M5 and M6 are too aloof to be fun? Barely concealed irritation at the impertinence and a well-rehearsed party line that increased technology enables modern M cars to be all things to all drivers. Apart from, it'd seem, the ones who actually like driving. A fact only highlighted by the manual M5 we drove last week that at last revealed a degree of character. Flawed, perhaps. But entertaining, engaging and a whole lot more involving.

The link is tenuous but traditionally at M's core
The link is tenuous but traditionally at M's core
So the E92 M3 stands, potentially, as not only the last to wear that celebrated badge. But also the last M car as we know it. Cars like the E92 and E60 M5 were never going to get mass acceptance. They're too focused, too furious, too peaky and way, way too thirsty. That's what we as journalists and customers told them. So, with all its considerable guile and resource, BMW has addressed these complaints, as you would expect. But, just possibly, killed the goose that laid the golden egg.

Doesn't matter. A new breed of customers, free of rose-tinted nostalgia and happy with turbo enhanced torque from 1,500rpm and a zillion different settings for every interface don't care. And they're buying. An M car wins at DTM at its first attempt. The brand looks cool and they don't care that the car they now buy now shares nothing in spirit, let alone breeding. M evolves into a profitable performance/luxury sub-brand, Robertson and his fellow suits are happy.

M5: a gearbox away from greatness
M5: a gearbox away from greatness
Where does that leave us, other than prowling the PH classifieds for old M cars and moaning about how things aren't what they used to be? There is hope. As Harris discovered recently cars like the M135i prove there is life in M yet. It may be that we need to move on and accept 'lower case' M as the new benchmark and leave the 'proper' M cars to the badge snobs. So be it. Almost under the radar of everyone - Robertson's suits and all it seems - the spirit of M has proven its ability to adapt and survive. Hopefully.

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (173) Join the discussion on the forum

  • RemarkLima 13 Dec 2012

    Hate to point out the obvious here, but if you really, genuinely do lament the passing of M as "Motorsport", you can always go and buy a E30 M3, probably for the same money as a new M3 / M4... Problem solved.

    Then again, whenever I've driven classics for extended periods, and realised the vague steering, flexi chassis, low grip, loads of wind noise, no heaters etc... You suddenly realise why you're in a more modern piece of machinery. The game has moved on.

    Sure, we can all have a quick go of Pac-Man, but let's not kid ourselves that it's Modern Warfare 38!

    I'm hankering after a classic, but without the rose-tints wink

  • Olf 12 Dec 2012

    Marwood79 said:
    Apologies - didn't mean for my previous post to bring down the tone... it was rushed, purile and immature. Ian Robertson has worked in senior positions in LR and RR and is clearly a career 'car man' as well as a Marketeer.

    He deserves professional respect, as does the commercial success he is enjoying.

    All that said I do lament the direction BMW's 'M' sub-brand has taken; they've chosen a 'mainstream-plus' path over special; why not use M as the means to introduce new drive-train tech to the brand? Keep it on the edge, low volume, keep it racing and keep it out of the mainstream...
    Fair enough - I picked your post out for ease - others calling him a cock were the real gripe.

    I've got a 30 year affinity to the brand - Mum worked for them for 20 years. We had CSLs and M535s and M5 and M635csi and all the rest as company cars. As a kid in the early 80s I clearly remember nightly outings to pubs where a cooking BMW got the same carpark attention as a Ferrari gets now - seriously. The fact is BMW became another consumer brand years ago and it's a mild shame and but I'd still rather it that way and have that still unique driving experience vs the other scenario of a SAAB type niche that ran out of steam and money years back

  • cmoose 12 Dec 2012

    Marwood79 said:
    Well, I agree - as a purely business decision it is obvious. As a business decision with one eye on emerging markets doubly so. And as has been mentioned earlier in the thread this is not an overnight thing but has been coming since the E36 / E39 generation. Ahh well... I'll keep my own focus on Buchloe and hope they're allowed to do a little more in future...
    Yeah, to be honest, not sure Alpina offers much of a solution. M and Alpina are converging fast as far as I can. It's auto-boxed turbo barges all round.

  • Marwood79 12 Dec 2012

    cmoose said:
    Because Joe Car Buying Punter generally can't spot the difference, so it's not nearly as profitable as rolling out tweaked mainstream cars with chipped turbo lumps?
    Well, I agree - as a purely business decision it is obvious. As a business decision with one eye on emerging markets doubly so. And as has been mentioned earlier in the thread this is not an overnight thing but has been coming since the E36 / E39 generation. Ahh well... I'll keep my own focus on Buchloe and hope they're allowed to do a little more in future...(and signs are good - it's ironic that the B3 GT3 is just plainly from the original 'M' car mould)

    Edited by Marwood79 on Wednesday 12th December 01:25

  • cmoose 12 Dec 2012

    Marwood79 said:
    All that said I do lament the direction BMW's 'M' sub-brand has taken; they've chosen a 'mainstream-plus' path over special; why not use M as the means to introduce new drive-train tech to the brand? Keep it on the edge, low volume, keep it racing and keep it out of the mainstream...
    Because Joe Car Buying Punter generally can't spot the difference, so it's not nearly as profitable as rolling out tweaked mainstream cars with chipped turbo lumps?

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